Al Qusais Lake, UAE
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Al Qusais Lake, United Arab Emirates

Also known as: Tilapia Lake, Zakher Pools, Quad Lake, Sand Dune Lake

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A new lake that has been the subject of much mystery over the past few years is Al Qusais Lake. This lake, of variable size, doesn't have an official name, and most naturalists call it Zakher Pools. Fishermen refer to the freshwater desert lake as Tilapia Lake, while dune-running quad fans call it Quad Lake or Sand Dune Lake. The origin and the fate of the lake are just as elusive as the name. Hidden behind a line of dunes along the Truck Road between Al Ain and Abu-Dhabi, most people have discovered it by accident, marveling at this beautiful expanse of water among the desert sands.

Al Qusais Lake is known to have existed at least since 2004. During that short lifespan it has become home to a large number of tilapia fish, making it a favored destination for local fishermen. How the tilapia got there is unknown, but it is suspected that fish eggs were transported there on the feet of birds and thrived. The lake and its varying edges have allowed small wetlands and shoreline ecosystems supporting reeds and shallow-water plants to develop. The plants have attracted insects uncommon to the desert environment, and migratory birds have begun to add the lake to their rest stops. Nearly 200 different species of bird have made an appearance at the lake, including migrating ducks and herons that are never seen in the desert. Some recent sightings have included mallard, shoveler, white-tailed plover, spotted redshank, common kIngfisher, Euro stonechat, osprey, spoonbill and others. A few species have even taken to nesting at the lake. Local families quickly found that Al Qusais Lake was the perfect picnic spot, and some even began swimming in the lake.

Discussion among local residents centered on where the water was coming from. Some thought it was all ground water percolating up from beneath the dunes. While groundwater levels have been dropping in most of the United Arab Emirates, those in the Al Ain Municipality have been rising. Hence, many locals thought the water was simply pooling on the surface naturally. A recent report released by local officials in conjunction with hydrologists finally explained the source of the water: the lake is man-made, created as a solution to unique water problems in the area.

Because of its inland location, Al Ain cannot dump its treated wastewater into the ocean as do most cities in the area. A new desalination plant pipeline has increased the amount of available water dramatically in the past few years. A growing and healthy economy meant there was a larger population with more industry consuming more water, thereby creating more treated waste water. Using the treated water to copiously water gardens and trees was contributing to the high water table and causing minor flooding and damage to basements and excavations. The waste water treatment plant first began dumping excess water into the Wadi Al Ain and later built a pipeline to divert the treated water to a natural basin. This is what has now become Al Qusais Lake.

The water now contained in Al Qusais Lake soon became the source for trucked irrigation water for local farms and orchards. However, 2008 was a very dry year, and pumping for irrigation nearly dried the new lake up. A single heavy rainfall in 2009 dumped nearly five inches of rain on an area that seldom gets over four inches of rain a year. The storm water run-off made its way into the wastewater removal system and thus into the lake. The lake quickly recovered and added to its former size, expanding to almost 300 acres with a depth of up to 66 feet. Unfortunately, the growing lake now encroached too close to the main truck road between Al Ain and Abu Dhabi, threatening to undermine this vital route. This threat forced the local municipality to find better ways to handle both treated waste water and storm run-off. More efficient systems have halted further water diversions into the lake. Now the lake is shrinking and may soon disappear unless it is decided to provide a regular source of water to the lake.

A man-made and unplanned lake such as Al Qusais Lake provokes a dilemma for scientists and naturalists in the region. The naturally fragile dune environment has been disturbed. Excess humidity from evaporation around the lake has adversely affected some insect species naturally found in the desert. Water quality in the lake has varied considerably; at times the water has become brackish and at other times it showed signs of hydrocarbons and chemicals from improperly treated run-off. Two people have recently drowned swimming in the unsanctioned lake. The drownings, plus dangerous scorpions found near the lakeshore, have caused the municipality to fence off the lake from most visitors, although water trucks are still allowed to pump water out. Some scientists feel that the possibly contaminated water shouldn't be used for irrigation purposes. For the present, opinions differ as to whether the lake should be allowed to exist and be nurtured to develop a waterfowl refuge. The jury is still out on the best way to proceed.

Al Ain is a very cosmopolitan city with great diversity among its residents. The economy of the United Arab Emirates is strong, and businesses from all over the world are encouraged to invest here. Increasingly Al Ain, along with better-known Abu Dhabi, courts visitors with excellent hotels, entertainment and shopping venues to suit every taste. One point of considerable pride is the Al Ain Zoo, which has one of the largest animal collections in the world. The famous Al Ain Oasis with its thousands of date palms is the biggest in the region. And the Camel Souk (market) attracts breeders and buyers from all over the UAE. The Al Maqam Camel Race Track makes for an exciting afternoon with lots of local atmosphere. The capital city of Abu Dhabi is only a hundred miles to the west over reasonable roads and offers oceanfront resorts and saltwater recreation on the Egyptian Gulf. All types of lodgings can be found in both locations, along with unique historic mosques, palaces and attractions.

Visitors to the United Arab Emirates should put Al Qusais Lake on their travel itinerary. Come see the endless colors and shifting sands of the dunes around the lake.

*Statistics are for the lake at its largest.

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